Rural women organize against gender violence and for equality
In the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, in the mountainous region of Chilapa, the farmers’ organization, Sanzekan Tinemi has its roots. Sanzekan Tinemi, which means “moving forward together” in the indigenous Nahuatl language of the region, stands out for its commitment to agroecology and the priority it places on women’s participation.
The agricultural organization is made up of 1,200 farm families who produce basic grains under the traditional milpa system, mescal using sustainable methods, fruits and vegetables while conserving the environment, and handicrafts including palm woven goods, clay, wood and corn husk product, among other activities. Juana Flores Moreno just handed the reins of the organization to a new president, after serving as its first woman president.
Although Flores Moreno no longer presides over Sanzekan, she participated actively in the preparation of the gathering for March 8, International Women’s Day. More than 80 women, leaders in their communities, and members and active participants in the organization’s projects, met in the headquarters located in Chilapa.
In preparation for the assembly of the National Union of Indigenous and Peasant Women (UNMIC, by its Spanish initials), that will be held this year, the women of Sanzekan have been immersed in a series of workshops, conferences and activities of their campaign “No more violence against women”. At the March 8 meeting, community representatives participated in working groups, presentations and forums on issues of representation and gender equality.
In the final Mar. 8 declaration approved by consensus, the women called for public policies that promote the use of organic compost fertilizers that many of them now produce in their communities; they denounced experimentation and commercial use of genetically modified seed, rejecting authorization for the cultivation of GM corn by Monsanto and other transnational corporations; and they committed to maintaining and encouraging the use of native and creole seed to produce healthy food for their communities and the local market.
In April they will hold the annual gathering for traditional foods that celebrates the elements of indigenous diets. Traditional foods have been largely abandoned due to the invasion of industrialized foods, which have led to serious health problems, including obesity and diabetes. Women from dozens of communities in the area will arrive in Chilapa again with their wood ovens and stoves and a cornucopia of fresh ingredients, and as guests look on, they’ll prepare delicious foods based on ancient recipes and offer tastings to the crowd.
The Mar. 8 declaration also resolves to present a proposal to the organization as a whole for gender equality in all levels of representation and leadership.
The resolutions will be presented in the delegates’ meeting on March 15 and then carried to the general assembly next April.
Flores Moreno is optimistic about the chances for success for the proposal of 50% of representation for women in leadership positions of Sanzekan. She comments that there have already been important advances.
“There’s more and more awareness on the part of the men, at first they resisted but they began to accept the idea and now almost always we agree on these issues within the organization. We want a woman to be president again in the next term–all of these are steps to move forward and propose equal representation in other levels where we participate.”
In the heart of the valleys of Yaqui and Mayo, in the northwest of the country, Jámutchim has been working for 21 years. The organization’s name means “women” in the Cahita language. The group runs a savings and loans business, financial cooperatives for production and consumption, and some small women-run businesses. Most are family businesses, among them small stores, tortilla factories, and enterprises that produce dried meat, clothing and other goods.
Reina Edalia Ávila Salazar currently leads the organization, which has strengthened its activities and forms of organization in recent years It now has its own offices and meeting halls, including a large, well-equipped gymnasium.
Jamutchim works mostly in the township of Benito Juarez, south of Ciudad Obregon and recently branched out into the Rosario Tesopaco township, in the nearby mountains. International Women’s Day coincides with the anniversary of its founding, and with its annual assembly that this year is charged with electing new leadership.
“It’s been hard because there’s still resistance, but we can see the greater awareness in women’s increased participation, and participation of men has grown a little too.”
Susana Nava Jaramillo, one of the more than 700 members of Jámutchim and the national director of UNMIC, notes that the organization has made progress in training and organizing women in the area. She notes that activities such as the campaign “No more violence against women” initiated more than two years ago and adopted permanently, have notably deepened awareness of women and men, not just in this part of the country but in many states including Chiapas, Guerrero, Hidalgo and Sonora.
“It been hard,” Nava says, “because there’s still resistance, but you can see the greater awareness in women’s increased participation, and the participation of men has grown a little too. The response is good; we’re going to continue this year with the campaign.”
Nava Jaramillo agrees that the mixed organizations of men and women must move toward equal gender representation, as established in the structure of the international agriculture organization, La Via Campesina (LVC). She attended the international Conference of the organization in Jakarta last year. As part of the conference, the IV Women’s Assembly joined representatives from around the world who in the 20 year history of the LVC have worked to build a movement dedicated to the defense of peasant agriculture, food sovereignty, equality and dignified conditions for rural men and women.
“The Vía Campesina is a movement that recognizes the full equality and worth of both men and women,” Nava notes.
In Mexico, rural women have vowed to defend the right to food, to biodiversity, to our natural resources, and to end the violence in all forms that arises out of capitalist and patriarchal systems. They reaffirmed these commitments on Mar. 8–and every day—as key to the vision of the defense of life and the construction of a equalitarian society.
Alfredo Acedo is a journalist and communications director of UNORCA, the National Union of Regional Autonomous Peasant Organizations of which these organizations are associates. He contributes to the CIP Americas Program at www.americas.org